What Can Go In A Compost Tumbler?

Sliced vegetables and cracked egg shells inside paper bagIt's time to get your compost going and you've made the decision to use a compost tumbler. They're easy to set up and get running in practically no time. But not sure what exactly you can put in your compost tumbler?
Here are a few things that are okay to place in your compost tumbler.
  • Most food scraps
  • Uncoated papers and cardboard
  • Grass clippings
  • Most sawdust
  • Leaves
  • Smaller trimmings from bushes
  • Flower bouquets
  • Compost starters

We'll take a look at each of these list items to give you a further understanding, but first, let's talk about how a compost tumbler works.

How Does A Compost Tumbler Work?

A compost tumbler works by creating an environment that allows organic materials to break down and biodegrade into compost. It's a sealed environment that creates the heat necessary to "cook" your compost. Most have aeration vents that help the compost from getting too hot. Compost tumblers are typically on rollers or have a crank handle that allows you to mix your compost every few days. This mixing speeds up the biodegradation process.

When thinking about what to put in your compost, you want to have the right balance of green (nitrogen) to brown (carbon) waste. This balance is essential, as kitchen scraps and grass clippings get very hot and too much may kill off the helpful microorganisms. On the other hand, too much carbon material, such as leaves and wood scraps, may not heat up the compost enough.

This composter doesn't require assembly, and it rolls on a base. It comes in 17 and 35-gallon models. It also comes in black.

Click here to see this composter on Amazon.

So What Can I Put In My Compost Tumbler?

We'll go through our list above in a bit more detail here. As you compost, remember, a two-barrelled tumbler provides you with one batch that's ready and one batch that's biodegrading. We've picked a few of our favorites below.

This two-chamber composter is heavy-duty and each section holds 50 gallons. There's a pin to lock them in place when you're filling the chamber, and they rotate on a spring axis.

Click here to see this one on Amazon.

Slightly smaller but equally cool, this compost tumbler gives you the option of splitting into two or using the entire 65-gallon capacity as one unit. It does require some assembly, but once up and running, it will do the job.

Click here to see this on Amazon.

Food Scraps

You can put many kitchen scraps into your compost. Fruit peelings, coffee grinds, vegetable scraps, and bread crusts. But you'll want to avoid meats, fats, and dairy, as those items will smell and attract rodents.

Consider a countertop compost bin like this one for the kitchen. When it's full, you can then transfer it to your larger tumbler. This one is titanium stainless steel (finger proof resistant) and comes with odor control and an easy handle for carrying.

Click here to see this on Amazon.

Uncoated Paper And Cardboard

Any paper or cardboard that you have that does not have a shiny coating can be composted. Shred it and break it down into small pieces so it'll biodegrade faster.

Grass Clippings

When you collect your clippings in your mower bag, or if you're raking them up, be sure to save some for the compost bin. Like your food scraps, they provide valuable nitrogen. Be sure to balance them out with an equivalent amount of fallen leaves.

Most Sawdust

Sawdust and small pieces of wood (think wood chips) can be added to the compost as a carbon element. You don't want to add ash from your fireplace or black walnut shavings.


Those fall leaves you raked up (with the exception of black walnut) make a great carbon element to add to the tumbler. Keep a pile nearby your tumbler then you can always throw a handful in when you add new food scraps to keep your balance right.

Smaller Trimmings From Shrubs

Because tumblers are generally size limited, you don't want to put any large branches inside because they'll take far too long to breakdown. However, if you have a few leaves, that's fine to add them to the mix. Just make sure they haven't been sprayed with pesticides.

Flower Bouquets That Have Gone Flat

Love bringing home fresh flowers but hate tossing them in the garbage when they lose their beauty? Throw them in your compost tumbler and let them feed future flowers.

Compost Starters And Accelerators

If you're just getting started with your compost you might consider adding some organic starter to give your first batch a head start. If you want to speed things up a bit and help with odors, you might add a bit of compost accelerator. We found a couple of great options for you below.

Click here to see this on Amazon.

Click here to see this on Amazon.

Should You Add Worms To A Compost Tumbler?

The short answer is you can, but you probably shouldn't. Simply put, worms in a composter may overheat and die. They also don't like to be rolled about, and if you're leaving your tumbler steady for your worms, then it's not working as fast as it can. Vermiculture and vermicomposting are pretty interesting in and of themselves, but you might want to opt for worm bins instead.

Compost tumblers can, however, help break things down enough that you can then transfer to your worm bin for those wriggly guys to break down even further.

A vermicomposting bin like this for red worms comes with everything you need.

Click here to see this on Amazon.

What Shouldn't You Compost In A Tumbler

We've mentioned a few things above, but here's a list of what you shouldn't compost in your tumbler.

  • Meat scraps and bones - these give off odors that attract rodents and may contain harmful bacteria that will transfer to your soil
  • Fats like oil and butter and dairy - These will make your compost smell and might slow down the composting process. They also attract rodents
  • Black walnut shavings or trimmings - there are toxins in the black walnut plant that can create an unhealthy environment for the plants you may be feeding with your compost
  • Wood ash - fireplace ash isn't good for your compost
  • Plastics - this may seem obvious, but coated papers like glossy magazine covers actually contain plastic
  • Stickers on your veggies and fruit - These stickers are printed on food-grade plastic and plastic is a no-no
  • Pet litter and feces - It may seem natural but litters often have chemicals in them, and pet feces can transfer disease and bad bacteria to the soil
  • Any clippings treated with pesticides - Those pesticides will transfer to the soil which is never a good thing
  • Citrus peels - If you have no worms, they're fine, but if you're feeding your tumbler compost to your worms, it can make the soil too acidic

Remember, keep your carbon to nitrogen ratio healthy, turn that bin every 3-5 days, feed it with rich table scraps, leaves, and lawn clippings, and soon you'll have wonderful compost.

If you want to read more about composting, please check out these other posts that might interest you:

How Long Does it Take to Compost in a Tumbler?

When to Add Compost to Your Garden?

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